THE two top naval crimefighters in the Indian Ocean have met and shared their experiences of half a dozen drugs busts.
Between them the Royal Navy frigate, HMS Somerset, and Australia’s, HMAS Darwin, have accounted for seizing £240m of illegal narcotics in the past two months.
The duo, directed by a Royal Navy-led task force, have ensured more than two and half tonnes of heroin and hashish will never reach their destination – or fund the activities of terrorists.
The Darwin scored five busts in five weeks – including the biggest ever haul of heroin seized on the Seven Seas – with an estimated street value of over £230m.
HMS Somerset added to the haul last week when she snared 60kg of heroin worth some £8.5m in the UK.
With 10 busts since January and six since the Royal Navy’s Maritime Battle Staff took charge of Combined Task Force 150 – committed to clamping down on terrorism and drug trafficking in the region – its Commanding Officer Cdre Jeremy Blunden said the international effort had “dealt a significant blow to the drug smugglers”.
He continued: “I am delighted that the team has already achieved so much – we know that heroin trafficked through East Africa reaches the shores of the UK, which makes this early success very satisfying for the Royal Navy officers and sailors serving here.”
In a brief pause in operations, Darwin and Somerset joined up allowing the boarding teams from both to discuss the best methods for tackling the drugs problem – and some of the tricks used by smugglers to hide their illegal transport.
Eleven sailors from HMAS Darwin headed to the Devonport-based frigate, while nine of Somerset’s commandos headed in the opposite direction.
In addition the command team from the Darwin met their opposite numbers on the Type 23 frigate.
“Working closely with our task force partners and understanding how we each do business is fundamental to continuing our success in combatting illegal drug movement across the Indian Ocean,” said Cdr Mike Smith, HMS Somerset’s Commanding Officer.
“As single ships we can be successful, but by working together we will make a real difference in this region.”
Darwin’s Operations Officer, Lieutenant Commander Barton Harrington added: “The cross-deck meeting presented the opportunity to exchange ideas about boardings at a tactical level. It was a highly beneficial meeting.”
While 10 years apart in age – HMS Somerset at 20 is the younger – the two warships have much in common; they are roughly the same size, have similar abilities and roles and are crewed by similar numbers of personnel. They’re also both celebrating their birthdays in the next few weeks.
HMS Somerset is in the final stage of a six-month deployment east of Suez, the majority of which has been spent in the Gulf on maritime security duties. She’s due home in Devonport early next month.